Amazing Grace

On his blog, my friend Tom Russell asked some time ago for readers to reflect on a song that impacted their lives. I answered immediately — “Amazing Grace”.

Those of us in recovery relate to this song, especially to the lines of the first verse: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but now I’m found/Was blind but now I see.” I know of no words that better capture the experience I had on June 2 1983 when I was rescued from addiction. I would like to take credit for the decision to become sober. I can’t. It was given to me through amazing grace.

The song derives from a poem written by Anglican clergyman John Newton who, among other things, was involved in slave trading prior to becoming a preacher. Newton also became mentor to William Wilberforce, who became a key spokesman for ending England’s participation in the slave trade. Here is a moment from the excellent film “Amazing Grace” when Newton urges William Wilberforce to use his document of slave trading in Wilberforce’s efforts to end it.


“Amazing Grace” eventually was paired with traditional tune “New Britain”. It was this melody that has come to us as the most familiar tune paired with the poem.

Among many favorite versions here is a beautiful one from the ending of the film “Amazing Grace:

This great hymn can be heard nowadays at funerals as well as other services. And one day in South Carolina President Obama sang it, an event that led Zoe Mulford to write this beautiful song;

Music has played a key role in my spiritual journey. This simple song has been first among many pieces that have shaped that journey.